Marine Mentors Help Afghan Officers Take Operational Control
By Staff Sgt. Luis P. Valdespino Jr., USMC
Special to American Forces Press Service
KUNAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan, Jan. 22, 2008 A U.S. Marine embedded training team is teaching Afghan army officers to show initiative and take the lead for their army and country.
Marine Lt. Col. James F. Werth looks down a mountain to check on his embedded training team as it makes its way to an observation point on top of a mountain from a border checkpoint several hundred meters below in eastern Kunar province, Afghanistan. Werth is the team officer in charge for ETT 7-2, which is deployed to Afghanistan from Okinawa, Japan, to work with the Afghan National Army. Photo by Staff Sgt. Luis P. Valdespino Jr., USMC
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Leathernecks with ETT 7-2 deployed over the summer from Okinawa, Japan, and were assigned to work with two kandaks -- or battalions -- from 201st Afghan National Army Corps. The Marines have been with the kandaks in operational and garrison environments, and they have seen officers demonstrate their abilities and willingness to take charge.
The goal is for the Afghan National Army eventually to operate on its own, while U.S. and coalition forces merely provide support, officials said. The advisors encourage Afghan officers and staff noncommissioned officers to be in the lead in all they do, and to develop leadership traits in their subordinates.
Marine Lt. Col. James F. Werth, ETT 7-2 officer in charge, said he advises the 3rd Kandak commander to allow subordinate officers to make decisions on their own. He wasn’t seeing this happening when the embedded training team arrived, Werth said, but he is starting to see progress.
“Routine decisions that U.S. officers normally just do are things they won’t do,” he explained. “A lot has to do with their culture and history. Their first course of action is often to let others make the decision.”
This, he said, shields the individual from being wrong and losing face.
The Marine advisors said the Afghan officers have shown courage during combat but could improve on initiative and decision making for operations, logistics and intelligence. Werth said he encourages this initiative among the officer ranks and that they are making progress. Werth said embedded training team mentors with 5th Kandak, which provides combat service support, report numerous examples of platoon commanders planning and executing logistics convoys with minimal advice. The officers also are learning to let their noncommissioned officers take charge of supervising soldiers.
Both kandaks have companies and platoons spread throughout eastern Afghanistan. Because they conduct convoys on the rugged main supply routes, maintaining vehicles is a key element here, Werth explained.
Maintenance upkeep is not something the Afghan soldiers are used to doing, but the NCOs now routinely conduct pre-convoy inspections and supervise preventive maintenance checks on their vehicles, something the mentors did not see when they first started working with their kandaks.
In 3rd Kandak, an armored unit, the intelligence officer now is more active in gathering and sharing information with both Werth and his kandak commander, Afghan National Army Lt. Col. Mohammad Naseem. Recently this included reports about Taliban threats to Gojers, members of a semi-nomadic tribe. Werth advised Naseem on courses of action but encouraged the Afghan officers to come up with their own solutions to the problem.
The Afghan officers discussed possible operational responses and planned out immediate means for helping the Gojers, many of whom had been forced from their homes in Nurestan province and pushed into Kunar province.
The 3rd Kandak (Armored) soldiers led several humanitarian assistance visits in the snow to provide food and clothing to the displaced Gojers and local villagers. Several of these visits were planned and conducted without coalition presence.
While the mentors admit they still have plenty of work to do and the Afghan soldiers still have a lot of room for improvement, they take pride in the changes they have facilitated.
Seeing the 1st Company, 3rd Kandak, commanding officer really develop into “a strong commanding officer” is one of the accomplishments of which Marine Master Sgt. Scott M. Ingbretsen, mentor for 1st Company at Forward Operating Base Keating, said he is most proud.
“Their way works very well,” Ingbretsen added.
(Marine Staff Sgt. Luis P. Valdespino Jr. serves with Combined Security Transition Command Afghanistan Public Affairs.)